Nobler than your average savage

The Budj Bim Aboriginal site in Australia has been granted “World Heritage” status. 

Budj Bim is the site of an Aboriginal aquaculture farm, where the inhabitants farmed eels and used ditches and nets to provide year round protein. This enabled permanent settlement and stone huts were built in the area. Estimates are that this practice commenced several thousand years ago.

Of course, that would be fine if that’s where the reporting ended; ancient and important historical and cultural location, preserved for future generations. Great.

It’s too much to hope that would be it. Predictably, we have to replay the “in harmony with nature” trope for yet another tedious outing.

Right on cue:

This, combined with the use of basalt rock formations to build small rock dwellings with thatched roofs would provide “a counter-narrative to this idea that Aboriginal people didn’t have any form of settlement and that they continually moved”, Mr Jennings said.

Correct. The small rock dwellings prove that some Aboriginal people settled in a place. Anyone who claims every Aboriginal throughout time was peripatetic would be wrong. 

Let’s keep this in perspective, however; there are only two known permanent settlements on mainland Australia, suggesting everywhere else was more suited to nomadic or semi-nomadic existence.

This isn’t a negative judgement on the ancient indigenous peoples; human developments at the time and the native flora and fauna were likely the major inhibitors. After all, complex agriculture only developed independently in perhaps 11 locations globally.   

Mr Jennings said the most important aspect of the World Heritage listing was recognising the sensitive way in which the Gunditjmara people had lived in harmony with the landscape, while adapting it to their needs.

Here we go… “sensitive“.

When people were farming eels several thousand years ago in order to feed their families and keep their loved ones alive, one suspects any translation of the adjective “sensitive” was not heavily employed. Not having to bury yet another of your children would presumably be somewhat higher up the priority list than the long term welfare of individual eels or even the species as a whole.     

Most thought of the landscape in this part of western Victoria as being changed by pastoralists who came from Europe and removed rocks to create vast tracts of grazing land. But the Gunditjmara people demonstrated at Budj Bim that manipulation of the landscape was possible in an entirely more sympathetic way.

Sympathetic“, now?

I doubt there’s even a local translation of that word.

If a herd of oxen were handed over to the Gunditjmara people ten thousand years ago and they had been taught how to use them to provide meat and milk, and as beasts of burden, do you really think they would have eschewed the opportunity to produce more food over matters Gaia?

“This was manipulating it by using the landscape’s form to cultivate aquaculture, and to live in that landscape in harmony with it, rather than completely modify it to change its land use,” Mr Jennings said

And, ding ding, “harmony” gets us a full house of noble savage references. It presumably never crossed Mr. Jennings’ mind that the landscape wasn’t modified because the ability and technology required hadn’t been developed. 

Bill’s Opinion

Hobbes famously suggested human life throughout nearly all of history was defined by the terrible qualities of being, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

One highly doubts Australian life 10,000 years ago was more communal, wealthy, pleasant, kind and longer than anywhere else in the world at the time. They had it just as shit as every other human on the planet and were motivated by exactly the same needs and desires. Any semblance of “harmony” would look suspiciously like a population that was limited (i.e. died from hunger) by the available resources.  

Living at one with nature would lose its romance about 30 seconds after you broke a tooth on a bone in the raw meat you had to track and hunt all day for dinner. 

If you are still unconvinced about whether or not Aboriginal Australians manipulated the land to suit their needs rather than being “harmonious”, here’s a painting of Mount Eccles from the time of the arrival of the Europeans;

Image result for mount eccles painting

Today, the same location looks a little more overgrown:

Image result for mount eccles

It’s almost as if someone had regularly burned the trees to corral animals into clearings to hunt them….

Also, I wonder what happened to the Australian megafauna?

 

5 Replies to “Nobler than your average savage”

  1. People who think that ancient tribes lived in harmony with anything seem to not only believe human core programming has changed since the cave times (it hasn’t) but that we’ve gotten worse.

    It’s a laughably sheltered worldview. Like thinking that wild animals have it great since you never hear them complain. Actually, it’s exactly like that.

    1. Rousseau is to blame for much of this thinking although it turns out he never used the expression “noble savage”.

  2. If by living in harmony with the landscape he means that the local tribe hunted and gathered all local resources until they were exhausted and then moved to another part of their “traditional lands” then sure, I agree. This noble savage myth really gets tiresome, if that lifestyle is so fantastic why aren’t their descendents still living in harmony with the landscape?

    1. “….. their descendents still living in harmony with the landscape?”

      I’m not sure how far up or down Maslow’s list “Tim Tams” sit but they must be on there somewhere.

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